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If you're in the market to buy a home, don't overlook a money saver and potential money maker showing up in an increasing number of homes - the Energy Star label.

The labels can be found on everything from windows to light bulbs, and when you see them, you'll not only be saving money every month on utility bills, but you'll be netting more resale value down the road when you can market your low utility bills - not to mention helping improve the environment.

In 1992, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) started the Energy Star program with two goals in mind: to identify and promote energy-efficient products, and (ultimately) to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

In 1996, the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy created the Energy Star label. Today, that label can be found in new and existing homes, everything from lighting to windows to appliances and more.

Products with the Energy Star label deliver the same or better performance as comparable models while using less energy and saving money. If all consumers, businesses, and organizations in the U.S. use Energy Star products over the next ten years, the national annual energy bill would be reduced by about $200 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Not only does the Energy Star program reduce air pollution and protect the earth's climate for future generations, but it also saves you money. Since consumers spend an average of $1,300 a year on energy bills - and most of that on heating and cooling their home - the savings can be significant.

For example, an Energy Star labeled Compact Fluorescent Bulb lasts up to 10 times longer than the average bulb and can save as much as $25 in energy costs. Energy Star labeled clothes washers use 50 to 70 percent less energy and save up to $90 a year in energy and water costs. Energy Star refrigerators use half the electricity of older models and reduce energy bills from $25 to $50 a year.

If you're willing to spend more, you'll see an even bigger savings. The big ticket items - insulation, windows, doors, skylights, etc. - may cost more up-front, but they offer 10-20 percent savings on heating bills and 15 percent savings on energy bills. Since the average household spends almost half of its energy budget on heating and cooling, the investment is definitely worth it.

In 1995, Energy Star became available for homes. Since then, more than 2,000 builders in all 50 states have helped keep 225 million pounds of global warming gases out of the air every year. Because of the design and construction of new Energy Star Homes, they offer a 30 percent savings for heating, cooling and water heating compared to a standard home - which translates into a $200 to $400 annual savings on utility bills.

Research by the National Association of Home Builders shows that 83 percent of home buyers consider themselves environmentalists, making green building a valuable marketing tool for builders. And it can be a great marketing tool for you, too, when it comes time to sell.

Another survey taken by new-home buyers in California, Arizona, Colorado, and Nevada, reveals that 81 percent of buyers feel the value of long-term savings of energy-efficient appliances and environmentally friendly materials was worth paying extra - a sentiment sure to spill over into buyers of existing homes.

If you own an existing home, there are lots of options for you. Energy Star central air conditioners can save 20 percent on cooling bills. Energy Star ceiling fans move 20 percent more air, the programmable thermostats help regulate temperatures when homes are unoccupied, and the dehumidifiers help cool air by removing humidity and moisture and are 10 percent more efficient than conventional models.

Energy Star homes and existing homes with Energy Star products often fetch higher resale value. Whether you're selling now, or may sell down the road, here are some tips to help you market your home at a higher value:

  • Save your utility bills. Studies have shown homes with lower energy bills realize impressive gains in resale value. This will document your home's low ownership cost. Make it a habit to save each monthly bill and file it away in a special place.
  • Save your Energy Star fact sheets. These provide a wide range of energy efficiency features specific to your home. Use them as a sales tool to explain your home's added value.
  • Save your Energy Star calc cash-flow summary. Most Energy Star-labeled homebuilders have software that evaluates the cost of your monthly mortgage and utility bills. These evaluations usually show that the savings in utility bills is greater than the extra paid to purchase the energy-efficient features. Prospective buyers should see this information.
  • Save your Energy Star-labeled home certificate.
  • Provide all the Energy Star-related materials and utility bills to your real estate agent and appraiser. Ask your agent for ideas on how to use these materials in the selling process.
  • Showcase the materials during the sales process. You may also want to consider labeling the energy-efficiency features.

    The bottom line is that when you consider Energy Star products, realize that in addition to being good for the environment and your pocketbook now, they're also maximize your sales price when it comes time to sell.

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